What Illinois athletics looks to gain with the addition of USC and UCLA

Oct 12, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini athletic director Josh Whitman looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 12, 2019; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini athletic director Josh Whitman looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael Allio-USA TODAY Sports /

Illinois athletics are going to be seeing some new faces in the coming years.

Big News

A few weeks ago, it was announced that two PAC-12 institutions in USC and UCLA would be joining the Big Ten in time for the 2024 football season.

Following this announcement, rumors arose around the status of the Big Ten’s ongoing negotiations with their upcoming TV deal. It had been announced earlier this year that the Big Ten was nearing an agreement with FOX Sports to finalize a new media rights deal.

Then, silence on the matter.

We went months with no new updates, and we now know why. The conference put negotiations on hold to add two new teams into the fold. With the addition of the two major brands in USC and UCLA, the Big Ten’s TV deal valuation is now worth significantly more than it was prior. This also means larger potential payouts for all the member institutions.

Big Ten History

Let’s have a quick history lesson for our younger Illini fans. The reason the Big Ten is the most desirable conference to land in has to do with a few key reasons. A good part of it can be traced back to one man though, former Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney.

Back in 2005, the conference was accepting bids for a new media rights deal. Historically, the Big Ten had partnered with ESPN, however, negotiations with ESPN in 2005 did not go well.

ESPN executives gave Commissioner Delaney what was considered to be a low ball offer for all of the conference’s TV rights. Additionally, they planned to relegate the non-revenue sports to be shown on less accessible channels, limiting the sport’s exposure to fans and capping potential growth in their viewer base.

Commissioner Delaney unsurprisingly did not accept ESPN’s offer. Instead, he came up with the idea of packaging Big Ten sports together and selling them on their own platform. This of course later came to be known as the Big Ten Network.

Originally, the network wasn’t marketable as it didn’t include football or basketball. After further negotiations, however, the Big Ten Network was also set to include the two sports. Now with a marketable TV package, the Big Ten was able to secure an extremely lucrative media rights deal with FOX Sports.

This deal dramatically increased revenue for the Big Ten member institutions while also giving better exposure to all the sports programs in the conference. Speaking of revenue, let’s take a look at how the Big Ten stacks up against the other Power Five Conferences.

Revenue and Payouts

Per Steve Berkowitz of USA Today on the Big Ten.

"“Payouts to schools: Ranged from $43.1 million to $49.1 million. (In 2020, they were about $54.3 million for each of its 12 longest-standing members, $27.6 million for Maryland and $11.4 million for Rutgers.”"

As we can see, pre-COVID, the Big Ten paid out $54.3 million to each of its member institutions (excluding Maryland and Rutgers.) This sum led all conferences in team payouts in 2021. Additionally, the Big Ten has had the largest payout to each of its members every year since their last media deal went into place.

Expected Increases

Going into negotiations for the next media deal, the Big Ten expected a big increase in value before the new team additions had been announced. Following USC and UCLA entering the fold, the estimated value of the Big Ten’s new media rights deal increased significantly.

It is now expected that the new TV deal will be at least worth over $1 billion a year. While there isn’t a hard number yet, member payouts are estimated to possibly be anywhere between $80-95 million a year depending on the yearly revenues of the conference.

Worth noting, that this is with the 16 teams expected to be a part of the conference in 2024. Adding more teams would increase the total TV deal value, but depending on the popularity of the school’s brand, this could either increase or decrease the estimated payouts per member institution.

What this means for Illinois athletics

Regardless of how it shakes out, the Illinois athletics department is in for a huge payday. This additional money will put all the Illini sports programs miles ahead in funding as compared to similar institutions in other conferences.

We can reasonably expect to be able to pay more to retain winning coaches for our best programs. This means we could afford to win a bidding war if any blue-bloods from the ACC, PAC-12, Big-12, and even SEC ever try to poach any of our coaches again.

For our non-revenue sports, this additional funding solidifies their futures in collegiate athletics at Illinois. Programs like men’s gymnastics shouldn’t have to worry as much about budget cuts and down years in revenue sports income.

Additionally, with intelligent investment from the administration and the support of the Urbana-Champaign community, Illinois could possibly afford to add a few more sports. Perhaps this could mean taking a second look at adding a hockey program.

It could also mean funding the construction of an indoor training facility for the track team that is also accessible for the nation’s best collegiate wheelchair track team to train at. Additionally, wrestling may also benefit from having a new location.

All these are possibilities that the athletic department and the university can now explore with an additional $25 million or more a year. As we improve our facilities, we will be more competitive to land better recruits in the future as well.

Regardless of your opinions on conference expansion, we can all agree that it is an exciting time for Illinois athletics. This additional money is a game-changer for our athletic programs as we continue to build for the future under the guidance of athletic director, Josh Whittman. Safe to say, this move will make Illini athletics pockets a lot deeper in the future.

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